Unreliable testimony results in an acquittal in drug shooting case

Judge questions integrity of star witness' account

June 09, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Leshon C. Ruffin was acquitted of first-degree murder, armed robbery and handgun charges yesterday in the shooting death of a Baltimore man during a drug deal that went sour in a Glen Burnie neighborhood last September.

Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney said the prosecution's star witness -- convicted felon James C. Patrick, 25 -- had lied so many times during the investigation that his testimony was unreliable.

"He is not a person of integrity," Loney said. "No intelligent person would make a major decision based on his statements without significant verification."

Patrick, an admitted drug user and dealer, lied to police and the grand jury even after he had been assigned an attorney and was given immunity, Loney said.

During the weeklong trial, Ruffin testified that he was at a friend's house at the time of the killing, an account that two witnesses confirmed. Patrick testified that Ruffin shot Howard W. Anthony Jr. during a drug deal.

Ruffin, 22, was expressionless while Loney summarized his 14 1/2-page decision, but hugged his attorney, John Robinson, after hearing the verdict. His mother, grandmother, girlfriend and friends began crying and hugging each other.

Anthony's relatives cried and quickly left the courtroom with a victims' advocate.

Neither family would comment.

"It was a difficult decision for [Loney]," said defense attorney Robinson. "I think there was a lack of physical evidence. The only person who said Mr. Ruffin had anything to do with it has lied over and over again."

Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles, who argued the case, would not comment about the verdict. A spokeswoman for the state's attorney said the office is "disappointed."

"We presented all of the evidence, and there is nothing more that we can do," Maureen Noe said.

Anthony, 25, was shot Sept. 15, as he sat in a car with Patrick in Glen Burnie's Heritage Hill section.

Patrick -- who told conflicting stories to police and a grand jury -- testified that he had had several business deals with Ruffin, an unemployed high school dropout, some involving drugs, watches or stereo equipment.

According to Patrick's testimony, Ruffin wanted to sell him drugs and Anthony wanted to buy some. So he brought Anthony to a meeting spot on Colonial Knoll in Heritage Hill.

Anthony was supposed to bring $3,600 for 4 ounces of cocaine. Instead, he brought an envelope containing a $10 bill, four $1 bills and 61 dollar-size magazine clippings.

Patrick testified that Ruffin got into the car and Anthony handed him a bill He said Ruffin then left the car, presumably to get the drugs.

He testified that Ruffin pointed his handgun at Anthony and demanded full payment for the drugs. He said Anthony pulled out a gun and tossed the envelope that was supposed to contain the cash out of the car.

Patrick said he heard shots but did not see anything. He testified nonetheless that Ruffin shot Anthony.

Patrick said he did not tell police the whole truth during several interviews because he was scared. Anthony's gun, Patrick testified, was one he had recently sold him. Loney pointed out that while Patrick changed his story many times, he focused on Anthony's gun and not on the shooter's identity. In closing remarks, Miles said Ruffin's mother and friend, who were alibi witnesses, were lying when they said he was playing video games and drinking beer at a friend's house the night of the killing.

Ruffin's fingerprints were on Patrick's car, although whether he touched the car that day or earlier is unknown.

Robinson maintained that his client did not match the description of a man some witnesses saw during the first part of the deal, shortly after Patrick's car pulled into the neighborhood.

Patrick said Ruffin was wearing a camouflage jacket zipped to his chin and a skullcap. Witnesses said they did not see a camouflage jacket. They described a baseball cap with the brim in the back, which Miles said would look like a skullcap from the front.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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